So, you spend all year designing and working on an outfit, making the thousands of changes to it until it’s just right. You search high and low for the perfect millinery and, about 100 hours later, you are super proud of your entire outfit. A one of a kind creation! And all yours!

You wear it to an event. You receive compliments! Everyone loves it. You plan on wearing it again later in the year to another event, but in the meantime…someone has loved your outfit a little bit too much and (gasp) copied it. They wear it to an event and is snapped in loads of photos… now your creation is a little less special, a bit old even.

You’re now a little hesitant to wear your outfit again. What if the copy of your dress attends the same event? What if it’s even up there on stage with you! How awkward! Or what if the judges think that your outfit is the copy?

Style & Originality

The Fashions on the Field competition is a showcase of personal style. It’s a competition based on contestants putting together an outfit, complete with millinery, and is a representation of them. The winner is named Best Dressed in hotly coveted competitions across the nation.

When you are up on stage, you are being judged on various key components. If you’ve copied or purchased a complete outfit, then the judges aren’t really judging your style, they’re unknowingly judging someone else’s style.

When pulling together a race day look, entrants are involved in the design process to varying degrees. An outfit could take an entrant an hour to come up with, or 100+ hours.

Their involvement can be as simple as buying a dress, millinery and accessories.

Alternatively, it can involve selecting (or even designing) fabric for a dress, coming up with a dress design, having it made or sewing it yourself, working closely with a milliner to create a hat, and sourcing all the accessories.

So, what happens when an entrant has very little, to no part, in the design process? Let’s explore some of these grey areas…

Copying Outfits – Flattery or Theft?

A number of times I’ve seen ladies copy another entrant’s look from head to toe (as best they can). And, as a judge, I would say that if I knew that was the case, I would be tempted to judge against them based on the fact it is not an original, or a true indication of their personal style.

Personally, I do have one-off pieces made. I am often asked if I ‘mind’ if someone remakes a dress I’ve worn. In this situation, I politely tell them that the dress is a one of a kind and would prefer it not be remade, as it is my design. I think this is fair.

copying racewear outfits mimic replica

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when you see an exact replica of your outfit on Instagram, you feel a little cheated. If you are going to copy someone’s work, I don’t think you should enter FOTF in it, as that is not a showcase of your style.

Let me share a recollection of this happening to me once here…

I wore a store bought dress to a FOTF competition in January many years ago. I wanted to embellish it so it would be different to the original dress, as I didn’t like the thought of turning up in the same dress as someone else. I spent hundreds (not an exaggeration) of hours beading this dress and adding trims and I came second at the event I entered.

Copying racewear outfit milano imai print

Original (left) and embellished dress (right). Image credit: Ross Stevenson Photography.

I wanted to wear the dress again during Melbourne Cup week, but luckily for me, I had changed the design again by adding an array of extra colours. I managed a Top 10 place in my new design.

embellished race dress print

Then, as I was waiting in line at the same carnival, I saw my dress appear on stage! It wasn’t my actual dress, but the same store-bought dress. To make matters worse, it had been enhanced with the same embellishments I had used in January (only they were done quicker with the use of fabrics) and styled with a similar hat (with the same feather).

It was such an awkward moment when the girl immediately recognised me and we uncomfortably said ‘hello’….

The moral of the story?

If you see a lady wearing a store-bought dress that you love, there is nothing wrong with also buying that same dress. Just make sure you style it differently, to suit you.

Taking Inspiration vs Copying

It’s important to acknowledge that there is a difference between taking inspiration and copying.

Every designer takes inspiration from other designers, that’s why trends and colour palettes are often seen throughout multiple brands. Designers often state who they were inspired by, but you will never see these designers make an exact or (too) similar replica of someone else’s work.

If you like a feature in someone’s outfit- for example a tulle skirt, you can remake this detail in a different colour/silhouette/fabric and the rest of the dress will be a different style- your style.

Having said all this, remember that some things are coincidental. For example, my first year in Melbourne I wore an outfit I had previously won in, in Queensland. It was a cue skirt and top with a bright yellow hat, which I had worn earlier in the year.

milano imai racing fashion blogger yellow outfit

Left: Ross Stevenson Photo Magic Millions January 2012. Right: Melbourne Cup November 2012.

I carefully selected the colours in my dress to match my hat beautifully. But, when I was waiting to enter Oaks Day, some friends of a state finalist commented on how my colour choice was very similar to hers. It was clearly an implication that I had copied this girl, which was not at all true. It wasn’t a nice feeling to know people were thinking I was a copy cat.

state finalist racing fashion

The state finalist with similar colours in her outfit. Image credit:

It’s also possible that people may have a similar idea at the same time. An example is when Courtney sketched a design idea of a tulle ombre dress, and a week later, a dress featuring the same concept was worn to a gala.

taking inspiration tuelle pink white dress

Image credit: @_themooretwins_

Funnily enough, even a dress I had prepared earlier that year also featured the same design elements!!

milano imai tulle race dress fashion blogger

Image credit: Wendell Teodoro

Purchasing Complete Outfits

When entering Fashions on the Field, purchasing an outfit (millinery included) can be seen as not an indication of one’s personal style- after all you haven’t exactly put together the outfit. Buying complete outfits just means you are buying someone else’s style.

There are many women who sell their complete race day looks after they have worn them and it’s always interesting seeing the same complete look at another race day, worn by someone else.

Then again, some are of the opinion that purchasing an outfit that reflects your style is acceptable, as you have chosen that particular ensemble.

If you do decide to buy a complete outfit, I think it’s perfectly fine to wear it to the race day but, personally, I don’t think you should enter the competition, unless you have made at least some changes somewhere.

Designers Making Your Dress (No Input)

In most cases, you would work alongside a designer to discuss choices on fabrics, colours, the design and silhouette of the dress. However, some ladies just enlist the help of designers and dressmakers to create their outfit and offer no input at all.

outfit design sketch material fabric

It’s understandable that most women can’t sew a complete outfit by themselves and enlisting the help of a seamstress is the only way to get their ideas made into reality. But, by being involved in the design process you are still coming up with something that reflects your style.

Finding a designer whose style is inline with yours and buying a ready-made dress by them is also fine. In this situation, you’ve chosen a particular dress that suits you and you can then go and choose the hat and accessories on your own.

Milliners Making your Hat (No Input)

When working with milliners, sometimes you tell them what you want, but it is not unusual for a milliner to have complete control over the design of your hat. In the initial consult you would usually discuss the colours, shapes and fabrics you like, then either agree on a design together or leave it up to them.

Buying bespoke and ready-made millinery are both fine, as you are pairing it with a dress that you have chosen.

These are some sketches my milliner, Belinda, (Peacock Millinery) did for me during the design process.

millinery design sketch

peacock millinery design sketch fascinator crown

fascinator bespoke custom made design

Being Styled Head to Toe

In my opinion, being totally styled for a FOTF competition is just plain unfair. Work with a stylist to help you come up with something that reflects your style, but don’t simply wear something someone gives you.

I offer style advice for ladies attending the races and I am here to help bounce ideas off and work with you on bringing your race day ideas together. I help people with colour selections for accessories etc, but I still think the entrant’s personal style should be the basis of the entry.

Sometimes enlisting the help of a stylist can be a great way to start developing your own style. If you are new to FOTF or struggle putting outfits together, this doesn’t mean you should miss out or shy away from the competition.

A stylist can help teach you the basics of putting together an outfit and help you with what suits your body shape, what colours work well with you etc. Once you have learnt these valuable skills, you can then incorporate them into building your own complete looks.


If you disagree or have anything further to add to this (sometimes delicate) topic feel free to share them in the comments below…

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